Iowa honor guard provides veterans a final goodbye

The American flag being raised at Station Woods Hole, Mass., on Feb. 4, 2017.


By JULIA MERICLE | The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa (Tribune News Service) | Published: July 4, 2017

At age 94, Iowa resident Newton Coburn still gets up some mornings and puts on the same U.S. Army uniform he wore while serving in World War II. He wears it as commander of the Burlington Area Veterans Council Honor Guard.

The Honor Guard is made up of veterans from several service organizations, including the VFW, American Legion and the Marine Corps League, who perform military funeral honors at the funeral services of veterans. During the service, Coburn gives a speech offering farewell and thanks to his fallen comrade.

The Burlington Area Veterans Council Honor Guard has provided military rites at over 800 funeral services since it formed in 2006, according to Dorothy Leasure, the organization’s secretary. She said the Honor Guard is looking for new veterans to join, since many of the current around 30 members are getting older.

However, when older members are unable to participate anymore, their job does not become obsolete.

“We are important because we are giving veterans their final goodbye,” Leasure said. “And every veteran needs his final goodbye.”

Coburn, who spent two straight years without furlough in war, agreed that the ceremony recognizes and honors veterans for the good job they’ve done.

Both veterans and active military people are involved in the ceremony, which Coburn said shows the range of different services, from people like himself who fought in World War II all the way to those who have never experienced combat yet.

With the Fourth of July coming up, Coburn offered patriotic sentiments.

“When I got back to the United States I kissed the ground. It was the most wonderful feeling to get back in the good ol’ USA after I had been down in New Guinea and the Philippines and Japan,” Coburn said. “People don’t really realize what a wonderful country we have.”

Military Funeral Honors Explained

The U.S. Department of Defense’s program “Honoring Those Who Served” ensures that “dignified military funeral honors to Veterans who have defended our nation” are provided to all those eligible upon the deceased veteran’s family’s request, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

At least two uniformed members of the U.S. military, including at least one from the deceased veteran’s same branch of the military, must be present.

These ceremonial honors include the following elements.

Color Guard:

A small group of Honor Guard members serves as the Color Guard at the ceremony. Members of the Color Guard hold an American flag, the flag representing the branch of the military the deceased veteran was a member of, and any other appropriate flags, such as a POW flag.

Rifle Volley:

Typically, seven or eight Honor Guard members fire three volleys of shots. The ceremonial tradition originates from an old custom of temporarily ceasing battle to clear dead from the battlegrounds. Once the dead were properly removed, the three rifle volleys symbolized that battle had resumed.

Following the volley, the shell casings are presented to the deceased veteran’s family. Often three of the shell casings are folded into the American flag before presentation, to represent the three volleys.

Playing of taps:

Prior to the Civil War, a French song called “Lights Out” was played on a bugle to signal the end of the day. In 1862, Union General Daniel Adams Butterfield decided the tune was too formal and not fit to honor the 600 men who died in the Seven Days Battles.

Butterfield hummed the tune of “Taps,” though to be derived from the Dutch command “taptoe” or “Tap toe!” informing soldiers to shut the “tap” of a keg and prepare for the day’s final bugle call and return to their garrisons. He gave the music to the brigade’s bugler, Oliver W. Norton and directed him to play the song in replacement of the prior regulation bugle call.

The day after it was first played, buglers from other brigades began asking for the music of the somber and emotive tune, which in 1874 was officially recognized by the U.S. Army. In 1891 it was adopted as the standard at military funerals and memorial services and is played on a bugle to symbolize the “lights out” command at the end of the day.

Flag Folding and Presentation:

A United States flag is laid across the deceased veteran’s casket, with the canton, or blue field, over the left shoulder of the veteran, in honor of his or her service to our country.

The flag is then folded by Honor Guard members of the same military branch as the deceased veteran into a triangle shape, representative of the triangle shaped hat worn by Patriots in the American Revolution. The flag is folded 13 times to form the proper shape, symbolizing the 13 original colonies of the United States. No red or white stripes are shown when completely folded.

The Honor Guard members who folded the flag then present it to the deceased veteran’s appropriate family member. The presenter of the flag recites a message standardized by the U.S. Department of Defense that reads: “ On behalf of the President of the United States, (The United States Army, The United States Marine Corps, The United States Navy, The United States Air Force or The United States Coast Guard), and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Finally, the Honor Guard member who presented the flag returns to the position of attention and offers a slow hand salute — four seconds for the person’s hand to leave his or her side and touch his or her cover and four seconds to return the person’s hand to his or her side.

©2017 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)
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